The delayed Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner for 2005-2006 (.pdf 19 pages), has now been published.
The letter from the the outgoing Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Swinton Thomas presenting the Report to the Prime Minister Tony Blair, is dated 19th December 2006.
Like the other delayed report, that of the Intelligence Services Commissioner, reference is made to the 15 months since the last report. Why ? There Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act says that an Annual report must be presented to the Prime Minister and then to Parliament and the public. None of the previous 5 reports by each of these Commissioners took so long, and the Chief Surveillance Commissioner's report for 2005, with exactly the same reporting requirements, was submitted and published online in July 2006.
Was Sir Swinton Thomas persuaded to tone down a previous draft of his official report, leading to the delay in publication ?
There are some quite lengthy arguments about, in Sir Swinton Thomas's view,
- the inadvisability of allowing intercept evidence in court, despite the experiences of other countries.
- The "Wilson Doctrine" about not intercepting the communications of members of Parliament
We will probably look at these two topics in subsequent blog postings.
The Report discloses the growth in the amount of work undertaken by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, and the fact that a Chief Inspector and 5 Inspectors have been recruited to help to inspect the nearly 800 public organisations which are now snooping on the British public under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 !
Who exactly are these faceless bureaucrat Inspectors ?
8. When I began in my post in April 2000, in the immediate wake of RIPA and the Human Rights Act, I had the nine Agencies and organisations empowered lawfully to intercept communications under section 6 of RIPA. Since then, as outlined in my previous Reports, I have, at the request of the Home Secretary, undertaken the inspection of interception in prisons, and on 5 January 2004 Chapter II of Part I of RIPA came into force enabling named organisations approved by Parliament to acquire communications data. The acquisition of communications data, although important and an extremely powerful and effective investigative tool, is not as intrusive as the interception of communications themselves. As at the date of this Report the number of organisations that I am required to inspect and oversee are as follows:
As at the date of this Report the number of organisations that I am required to inspect and oversee are as follows:
a. The nine Agencies as indicated above.
b. 52 police forces.
c. 12 other Law Enforcement Agencies such as the Royal Military Police and the British Transport Police.
d. 139 prisons.
e. 475 local authorities authorised to acquire communications data.
f. 108 other organisations such as the Financial Services Authority, the Serious Fraud Office, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service who are authorised to acquire communications data.
totalling 795 in all.
9. In addition I visit the principal Communications Service Providers in this field as reported below. The overall result of these additions is that the work of the Commissioner has changed and grown out of all recognition since I took up my post in April 2000. A new oversight regime is in place to deal with the increased workload, with the Commissioner retaining overall oversight, and I think I can report that the regime has settled down well and that proper oversight is already in place and working well. I deal more fully with this below.
10. It will be immediately apparent to any reader of this Report that it would be impossible for a single Commissioner to inspect and report on all these organisations on his own. Some inspections are quite lengthy, occasionally running to several days, and full Reports have to be prepared for each authority inspected. Accordingly it was agreed with the Home Secretary that a Chief Inspector and the necessary number of inspectors would be recruited to carry out the bulk of the inspections in prisons and under Chapter II in respect of the acquisition and disclosure of communications data given the potential for intrusion into privacy albeit of a lesser kind than is the case in respect of communications content. All oversight under Chapter I continues to be carried out by the Commissioner alone. A recruitment exercise was undertaken through my sponsoring department, the Home Office. A recruitment agency was instructed, and there were a very large number of applicants. The applications had to be sifted and assessments made. This took a considerable time. Following the assessment, a number of applicants were interviewed by a panel of three, consisting of myself and two senior Members of the Home Office (the Head of my sponsor unit and an independent assessor). A Chief Inspector and five Inspectors were chosen, all with relevant experience from working in law enforcement or the private sector of using or interpreting communications data in criminal investigations and proceedings. The Chief Inspector was in post on 16 May 2005 and the remainder of the team joined between that date and 4 September 2005. Thereafter it was necessary for them to be trained in this work which included attendance at a residential course and the inspections commenced in the latter part of 2005. I will return to this aspect of the work later in this Report.
Who exactly are these unnamed Chief Inspector and Inspectors ?
Why were their appointments kept secret ?
Remember that the purpose of the Interception of Communications Commissioner is to provide public oversight and reassurance.
The similar Surveillance Commissioners who help the Chief Surveillance Commissioner in the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, to scrutinises other aspects of RIPA, are all named and their appointments are announced by Prime Ministerial Written Statement and press releases. Why the unnecessary secrecy ?
The number of Interception warrants, which deliberately aggregates those for the intelligence services with those for serious crime, seems to be of the same order as previous years i.e. under 3000, except for the undisclosed number in Northern Ireland. That does not imply that the amount of state surveillance stayed the same as in previous years.
the overall number of requests for communications data which totalled 439,054
Given the nearly 800 organisations who are making these hundreds of thousands of Communications Traffic Data, it is not a surprise that more staff have been recruited simply to audit a small sample of the requests.
There is no breakdown of figures for either, say, simple "subscriber name and address details for this advertised phone number" required by Local Authority Trading Standards departments investigating dodgy second hand car salesmen or for the more sophisticated Mobile Phone Location based Services tracking data.
We cannot see why Tony Blair delayed the publication of this Annual report, which,as usual, only gives a brief glimpse into some of the workings of the United Kingdom state surveillance systems.